China outlaws elephant ivory trade but worries remain over black market

Animal rights activists are praising China’s announcement that it will ban the sale and trade of ivory by the end of 2017, but the news has also raised concerns that it will drive a much-maligned business further onto the black market.

Beijing officials said that by the time stores close on Friday almost half the country’s official ivory factories and shops will have locked their doors for good, with the rest of the 34 factories and 138 shops following by the end of the year. The U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has sent a team of experts to China to oversee the process.

“I am very proud of my country for showing this leadership that will help ensure that elephants have a fighting chance to beat extinction,” Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia, told the BBC.

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China is the world’s largest market for the controversial material – it is estimated that seven out of every 10 pieces of ivory in the world ends up for sale there — and has been facing international pressure since there was an international ban on the trade and sale of ivory was implemented in 1989. U.S. and Chinese officials in 2015 began negotiating an end to China’s domestic ivory trade.

The majority of the ivory in China comes from elephant poachers who sell the animal’s tusks on the black market for huge amounts of money. While ivory is used in a number of nations across the globe it is particularly popular in China where it is used in everything from jewelry and ornaments to traditional medicines.

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